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My First Car: ‘Viva La France’ – Vauxhall’s engine problems on holiday proved so educational

PUBLISHED: 14:43 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:43 06 November 2018

Bob Hobbs with his Vauxhall Viva at Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth, in 1967. Picture: Bob Hobbs

Bob Hobbs with his Vauxhall Viva at Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth, in 1967. Picture: Bob Hobbs

Bob Hobbs

Owning a Vauxhall Viva proved educational for Bob Hobbs – engine problems while on holiday in France led to a lifelong study of speaking French.

I was a scooter-riding Mod in the early 1960s. In South London you had to be a Mod, there was no contest. My preferred mount was a Lambretta TV 175, with copper side panels and leopard skin seat covers.

I took driving lessons without telling my friends, had 10 lessons at 17/6d each and passed my test at the first attempt which cost £1. For around £10 I was a driver.

My dear old dad said he would buy me a car, as long as I paid him back in instalments – maybe I paid about half the amount back!

I chose a 1964 Vauxhall Viva for £400 – for some reason I thought it was a classy car! It had a heater but no radio which was standard in 1967 for a small car.

That summer, myself and the Viva, plus a bunch of friends, went for a week’s holiday to Great Yarmouth, camping at Burgh Castle. As the song from the time goes ‘In the summertime... you got women on your mind’. I met a young lady there, Terri from Stevenage, and we eventually married in 1969 which shows the pulling power of the Vauxhall Viva.

This was my first visit to Norfolk, I came back and settled here in 1977 when I got a job at Anglia TV.

In the summer of 1968 we took the Viva to France, passing through Paris at the height of the Student Revolution. There weren’t as many motorways in France then, the A1 Autoroute had only opened the year before, so the route was long to St Tropez.

The Viva started to overheat and misfire badly, my mechanical skills were limited to filling the radiator so I had to take it to a garage near the yacht harbour at St Tropez where my schoolboy French let me down. ‘La plume de ma tante’ gets you only so far!

It was this experience that started my lifelong study of the French language, so maybe I owe my Francophile tendency to that little Viva.

Tell people about your first car – email your memories with a picture to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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